Kerouac--toward the tail-end of this life--was also of the impression that the sixties counterculture had been co-opted by sinister forces. Soddened by liquor, and dismayed by what he felt was the unpatriotic posture assumed by these long haired freaks (who, adding insult to injury, had credited his books for their hippie dippie philosophy) Kerouac feared a Communist Conspiracy was behind the tumultuous events of that era. One also gets the impression in later comments that he believed the Jews played a part in these behind the scenes manipulations. Kerouac--one of the more open-minded and tolerant souls of his generation--by the end of the sixties had turned into a slurring, often incoherent, commie bashing rummy, whose literary output dwindled as his intake of hard liquor increased. The last thing Kerouac wrote before his death was a screed directed at the hippies and the anti-war movement entitled, "After Me, the Deluge."
In a poem dedicated to his passing, Gregory Corso compared Kerouac's destruction by alcohol to the disastrous effects that Fire Water had exacted upon the Native American culture. This in retrospect is a fitting metaphor. The same forces that nearly drove the America Indian to extinction, were in fact the same powers that delivered Kerouac to an early grave. He drank for the same reasons the Indians did; to bury the pain, and to escape from the tragedy of a self-destructive civilization teetering on the edge of ruin.
Ginsberg, on the other hand, passionately embraced the sixties counterculture, growing long his hair and beard, donning lovebeads, and participating in love-ins, acid tests and anti-war demonstrations. At the outset of the decade, he participated in Tim Leary's psilocybin research at Harvard. On the momentous night of November 26, 1960, Ginsberg received a vision from on high instructing the mad poet that he would be The Messiah to herald in a psychedelic revolution. Under Leary's supportive guidance--and 36 milligrams of psilocybin--Ginsberg wandered downstairs naked, determined to alert the world's leaders that a new epoch was at hand: Instead of nuclear mushroom clouds, mushrooms of an entirely different nature would intervene, bringing love and illumination to a world on the brink of nuclear annihilation. Ginsberg got on the phone and started placing calls to the Kremlin and White House, identifying himself to the telephone operator as God (he spelled it out for her, G-O-D). Unsuccessful in his attempts to reach Kennedy or Kruschev, Ginsberg got ahold of Kerouac and informed The King o' the Beats that: "I am high and naked and I am King of the Universe. Get on a plane. It is time!" It was the wish of both Leary and Ginsberg that the world's leaders get together in a United Nations type setting, and drop psilocybin all at one time. This, they agreed, would cause "...Everyone to plug in at once and announce the Coming Union of All Consciousness."
This wasn't the first time Ginsberg had attained a mystical state under the influence of mind altering drugs. But in the company of Dr. Leary a great plan started to form--in Ginsberg's mushrooming mind--of a psychedelic revolution, with the likes of Leary and himself leading the charge, spearheading a mass movement that would transform the planet, sending spores around the world. Leary, later on, turned on Kerouac and Burroughs, as well, though each had mixed emotions regarding their respective experiences. Ken Kesey, with his own huge stash of Owsley manufactured LSD, shared the same chemical illumination with Neal Cassady. Whether or not Leary and Kesey were witting members of the aforementioned MK-ULTRA mind control programs, we may never positively ascertain, though their respective participations in LSD proliferation were monumental in promoting the sixties psychedelic scene.
Ginsberg first became acquainted with LSD in 1959, through government sponsored research at the Menlo Research Institute in Palo Alto. Kesey and Jerry Garcia were also early volunteers for these mind-bending experiments, which many connect directly to MK-ULTRA. This before the term psychedelic was in the popular lexicon. At this time psychedelics were referred to as 'psychomimetic' drugs; drugs that reportedly brought about temporary psychosis. Kesey and the other adventurous souls who volunteered their brains for science received 75 dollars a day. Due to a bad trip courtesy of the Menlo Research Institute, Ginsberg composed a poem under the influence of LSD, aptly titled, "Lysergic Acid" of which the following is an excerpt: It is a multiple million eyed monster it is hidden in all it's elephants and selves it hummeth in the electric typewriter it is electricity connected to itself, if it hath wires it is a vast Spiderweb... I, as well, have beheld this multiple million eyed monster, hidden--as it is--in all elephants and selves. Like Ginsberg, acid brought about this nightmarish vision, on the full-size Technicolor viewing screen behind my closed eyelids. Whether or not this monstrous, Bosch-like archetype is inherent exclusively to practitioners of Guerrilla Khundalini, I can not authoritatively address. Nevertheless, I find it interesting that Ginsberg's description of this demonic entity--viewed under the influence of lysergic acid diethylamide--matches almost perfectly my own temporary psychedelic psychosis, producing what would appear to be a shared thematic experience linking the drug experimentation of the Beat subculture with my own generation of Guerrilla Khundalini adepts, forming--one might conjecture--a metaphysical conspiracy that bridges generations; that of a religion of elitists waving no particular banner (except maybe, a "freak flag"), dedicated to the principle of discovering "GOD" on their own terms, without benefit of a mediating agency, or dogmatic agenda. Robert Anton Wilson summed it up best in his intro to Cosmic Trigger when categorizing this new age of holy mad men:
"We are all evolving into the use of new neurological circuits, which will make us superhuman in comparison to our present average state. The activation of these new circuits creates a great deal of temporary weirdness until we learn to use them properly..."
This concept of 'evolving...new neurological circuits' (or whatever you want to call it) is not something entirely novel to the human experience. This neurological expansion of consciousness--which opens the figurative "door of perception"--has long been ajar, allowing only an initiated few to glimpse through it's cosmic crack. The Beats just pushed the door open further, placing their New Vision more prominently before the masses, albeit projected through the distorted lens of The Media. What followed a decade later totally blew "the door" off it's hinges, with the subsequent psychedelic/neurological revolution fostered by the likes of such sixties luminaries as Kesey, Leary, R.A. Wilson, and more recently, The Brothers McKenna.
While some might find my personal multiple-million-eyed-monster-made-manifest-by-LSD experience--this so-called "bridge between generations"--a bit tenuous, a more obvious and enduring case could be made for Cassady, who steered his karmic wheel across two cultural phenomenons, starting on the road with Kerouac in the late forties/early fifties in his role as the infant terrible of the Beats, and then later in the mid-sixties with Kesey and the Pranksters, as the elder statesman of lunatic psychedelia. These respective pilgrimages set the tone for what was to follow, first with the Beat Movement, then afterwards with the sixties counterculture. Both of these movements exhibited religious attributes and inward yearnings that led to mass societal movements, though admittedly short-lived in a wide spread sense.
Delving even deeper into this line of reasoning, another obvious link connecting countercultural movements was the tragic figure of Bill Cannastra, who actualized the punk ethic a quarter of a century before it's pierced nipple metamorph. An intimate of Kerouac's, Cannastra--known for dancing naked to Bach fugues on shattered glass--was another model of life teetering on the edge; a practitioner of self abuse and suicidal tendencies. A law school dropout, he spearheaded a core group of "subterraneans" as Kerouac would later dub them. This New York school of societal misfits often gathered for drunken all night debaucheries at Cannastra's infamous downtown loft, gutted as it was of any semblance of rational decor, littered with broken records, stained mattresses, and slashed car seats. In this manner, the "Church of Bill" served as an early blueprint of the Punk ethic. As a character in John Clellon Holmes' Go, rhapsodized,"Don't you know that people who can't believe in anything else always believe in Bill?"
In nothing less than the dramatic fashion Cannastra conducted his life, with equal theatrics it ended. In 1950 The Church of Bill officially closed it's doors for good when it's unholy architect attempted to climb out of a subway window as it was leaving a New York train station and was immediately, and ceremoniously decapitated. Thus brought the physical manifestation of the Church of Bill to a grand and grisly finale.
* * *
Situating himself in the company of intellectual bohemians, Neal Cassady's sparkling intellect burned with primal intensity, dedicated as he was to living in the Now. Unfortunately--in a world of everyday responsibilities--some suffered needlessly due to Neal's psychotic spur of the moment recklessness. What with his unbridled libido and voracious appetite for speed, both chemical and automotive, he left in his wake a slew of ruined relationships and demolished cars, with dirty bandage wrappings dangling from his thumb. But I think it was this primal energy that so enraptured the imaginations of Kerouac, Ginsberg, et al. As Ken Kesey once upon a moment of clarity stated, "I saw that Cassady did everything a novel does, except that he did it better because he was living it and not writing about it."
When he first crossed Cassady's off-centered path, Kesey was considered one of the up and coming talents on the American literary scene. Having experienced critical acclaim and success with One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, Kesey's second novel Sometimes a Great Notion, was released soon after. Many found it unusual then, that--after these two early triumphs--his next work of fiction was decades in the making. It was as if he'd put a hold to his literary career to follow the lead of Cassady, by turning his life into a novel, which is exactly what it became with the release of Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, detailing the zany antics of Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, with Sir Speed Limit--as Cassady was called in later years--at the helm of Intrepid.
The Pranksters themselves felt as if they were tuned into certain paranormal frequencies, picking up on the very same etheric energies that Cassady had so finely dialed in. Often times, when they had misplaced a certain object, at just the point in time when they needed it most, the item in question--whatever it may have been, a roach clip or wrench--would mysteriously appear, as if they had willed it into being with their collective and chemically influenced thought-waves. As a group, they also developed an uncanny ability to find things in the dark, as if their cumulative ingestion of acid had precipitated a new facility within their tuned-in heads. As Mountain Girl said of these off-the-wall abilities,"We were blind, but we had eyes in our feet. It set our heads swimming."
Literally overnight a monumental paradigm shift had swept away old worlds for new, blossoming rainbows of possibilities. LSD had lifted the veil, enabling a new way of seeing, to use the vernacular of Carlos Castaneda. For the Pranksters, Cassady was a role model of how to relate to the beautiful madness of a post-LSD world. From him, the Merry Pranksters took their lead. Quoth the cosmic clown, Wavy Gravy, "Neal was so far ahead of his time, that he'd point for those of us just struggling to be with the moment."
Neal's psychic powers manifested themselves in multifarious manners; some in the form of paranormal parlor tricks, similar to those performed by Bill Burroughs in Mexico. One such showbiz like routine of Neal's was where he'd rattle off the serial number of a dollar bill whenever anyone pulled one from their pockets. Often times he'd get the entire number correct, all ten digits. Other precognitive feats Neal consistently performed were in the form of predicting when a person would enter a room, what their gender and physical appearance would be, and what type of mission they were on. On long lonely stretches of road Neal often performed a similar feat, predicting correctly time and again the make of the next vehicle that would pass them by in the night, and any particulars regarding the vehicle, such as a missing headlight, or body damage. Another peculiar mechanization of the 'Fastestmanalive!' (as Neal was also knighted) was his legendary tossing of the hammer, a four pound sledge that he wielded with all the skill and authority of the mighty Thor. Many felt that Neal's incessant hammer tossing was some sort of holy chore, like a zen monk chanting, or a saint's meditation. But once again, these were different mystics, using different methods to initiate enlightenment. Ken Kesey--in all his unconventional wisdom--believed that whenever the sure handed Cassady dropped his hammer, it was due to bad vibrations in the room, and that Cassady had purposely dropped the hammer to break up those negative vibes. To Kesey, there were no 'accidents' as far as Cassady was concerned. Cassady drove like a maniac all his life, though never once was he ever involved in a traffic accident. Many ascribed this good fortune to his remarkable relationship with time, able to live on the edge but in the same instance foresee coming changes in fractions of seconds.
One of the more remarkable statements from On The Road is when the Dean Moriarty/Cassady character animatedly proclaims, "We all know time!" The meaning of this pronouncement can be interpreted in a variety of ways, but my take on it is one of the observer perceiving time in terms of a Quantum Physics model; of several realities existing side by side, concurrent in time and space.
In all of Neal's frenzied and spasmodic actions, intimates were well aware of his innate and mind-blowing ability to carry on several conversations--with two or more people--simultaneously, gear-shifting his focus from one conversation level to the next with rapid fire precision, driving high speed through a telepathic traffic of souls switching lanes in stream of consciousness, oftentimes anticipating where each respective conversation was rolling well before arriving at it's destination, in an amphetamine fueled brainstorm of neurologic activity, spark-plug synapses firing at breakneck speed, steering through the highways and byways of the full tilt, locomotive high octane mind of 'Sir Speed Limit'.
When Neal was a young lad, his older half brother Jimmy often bullied him. It was Jimmy's habit to throw Neal onto a bed that pulled out from beneath a cupboard, then deposit bed and brother back into the wall. Unable to defend himself against his older brother's merciless thumpings--and afraid to shout out for help because it would cause Jimmy to attack him even more aggressively--Neal discovered a transformative method of turning his fear into a visionary experience, and in fact rather grew to enjoy the sensation he self-induced while trapped in the claustrophobic darkness. This sensation was akin to sensory deprivation effects produced in an isolation tank, as sometimes Neal would be locked in the pitch blackness of the wall for upwards to an hour. Trapped in this narrow passage with less than a foot of clearance, a disorientation of the senses would begin, like an "off balanced wheel whirling" in his skull, as Neal experienced a sensation that time was moving at triple speed, in "a loose fan-like vibration as it rotated into an ever-tightening flutter." The result was "strangely pleasant, yet disturbing enough to frighten, quickening the brain's action which resisted any rigorous attempt to throw it off and return to normal-headedness." Neal would recapture this feeling of psychic dislocation in later years under the influence of LSD and pot.
Sir Speed Limit's supranormal relationship with time would eventually exhibit itself most notably behind the wheel of a car, which he used as a physical extension for his free-wheeling Psyche, so in tune was the man with the combustive music of the road and rolling machines. All who rode with Neal would agree that something special was going on there, with his mind/body&soul in perpetual motion, communing with the automotive and holyboy road. As Mountain Girl once explained,"Neal felt when he was at the wheel of a car that his eyes were registering events ahead of the car at a certain rate and he was perceiving them at a certain rate and it takes a certain number of microseconds for the impulses to travel from the eyes to the brain and get processed and get down to the hand to turn the wheel. He was very sensitive to those tiny fragments of time. He was intimate with time."
It didn't take long for Kerouac to recognize Cassady's special talents. Through Cassady he was able to see the possibilities of a whole generation in the wide open balls to the wall revelatory search discovered on the road, stretching vast lonesome highways of the night, stealing gas and getting laid in the mad rush of his reeling senses, high on speed, blowing gage and ejaculatory wads from sea to frothy sea. From California to New York to New Orleans, then Texas and on to Mexico where Jack fell delirious with dysentery, as wayward Neal abandoned his old buddy for the call of the road, repeating his personal manic mantra of "Go-go-go!!" and vanishing in a cloud of dust, leaving behind lonesome Jack cold-sweating in his Mexican sickbed, beat.
One night, prior to his bout with dysentery (and Neal's sudden departure from Mexico) Kerouac beheld a spectral vision in the mexican jungle. Just before dawn, as Neal slept soundly by the roadside, a white horse trotted by, directly toward Neal, passing right beside where his sleep-filled head rested in slumber. The horse whinnied softly and continued on down that old road, into the city beyond. Thus Kerouac beheld a pale horse, the symbol of destruction, and the ending of time as we know it, symbolically representing an epoch that was already in it's death throes by the time the marketing geniuses of Madison Avenue got around to tagging a name to the best minds of Ginsberg's generation: Beatniks. (Like, cool, daddy-o.) So the writing was on the wall for both these kindred souls of the open road, instructing them that even though their impact would be felt for generations to come, their physical manifestations on the earth would be short-lived, with Neal coming to absolute ruin a decade and a half later in the same Mexican landscape of the mind, where--making good on a bet to count all the railroad ties between San Miguel and Celaya--he met his fate. Stoned on seconal and booze, Neal collapsed, dying of exposure to the elements. As apocryphal legend has it, his last words were, "64,928."
Kerouac--devastated by Cassady's passing--died a couple years later, due to severe extinction of the liver. Too many years of hitting the sauce had taken their toll on the once mighty King o' the Beats.
Burroughs, William. Naked Lunch. Olympia Press, 1959.
ibid. Junkie: Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict. Ace Books, 1953
ibid. Queer. Viking, 1985
ibid. with Allen Ginsberg. The Yage Letters. City Lights. 1963
Fahey, Todd Brendan. Wisdom's Maw. Far Gone Books, 1996.
Ginsberg, Allen. Howl and Other Poems. City Lights, 1956
Kerouac, Jack. On The Road. Viking Press, 1955, 1957.
ibid. The Dharma Bums. Viking Press, 1958.
Leary, Timothy. Flashbacks: An Autobiography. J.P. Tarcher, 1983.
Plummer, William . The Holy Goof:A Biography of Neal Cassady. Paragon House, 1990.
Stevens, Jay. Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream. Perrennial Library, 1988.
Watson, Steven . The Birth of the Beat Generation: Visionaries, Rebels, and Hipsters, 1944-1960. Pantheon, 1995.
Wolfe, Tom . The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1968.